As the Disney+ series WandaVision is released, Comic Book Herald critics will explore Wanda Maximoff’s comic book history, and where the character may be going moving forward, in an ongoing weekly series we’re calling “The Great Pretenders: What To Do With Marvel’s Scarlet Witch?!”
Wanda Maximoff’s fall from grace was more gradual than is generally acknowledged, but for our purposes, it mostly took place through the stories Avengers Disassembled, House of M, and Decimation. After causing countless calamities with her infamous “no more mutants” line, an amnesiac Wanda ended up in Wundagore, then engaged to Doctor Doom in Latveria, before regaining her memories in The Children’s Crusade.
As such, though Wanda seemed to be on a path to healing as far back as 2010, it’s been quite an uphill battle. As recently as the Empyre crossover, her mix of good intentions with an apparent inability to take prudent advice once again combined to create catastrophe, which could leave a lot of fans wondering if she learned anything at all in the many years that took place between these arcs. The answer to that, of course, is – kind of. It’s complicated.
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Almost immediately after her cathartic return, Wanda’s redemption seemed very nearly in reach when she and Hope Summers combined forces not only to defeat the Phoenix Force but also to succeed in repowering all the depowered mutants in Avengers Versus X-Men. Yet, perhaps understandably, those that had been hurt by the events of M-Day weren’t so quick to forgive and forget.
After being rejected from rejoining the Avengers by her ex-husband The Vision in AVX, Uncanny Avengers was the book where we saw Wanda return to superheroics in earnest after years of reading about the after effects her actions had on her fellow mutants.
Ostensibly, Uncanny Avengers followed the in-retrospect-poorly-named Avengers Unity Team, which was formulated by Captain America and co-led by the X-Men’s Havok. After the (temporary) death of Professor Xavier, the Avengers began to feel like they weren’t doing enough to build bridges with the mutants (they weren’t), so they started a team that combined several members from each. This concept immediately goes fully wild and the Red Skull shows up and steals Xavier’s brain to fuse it with his own in another bid to rule the world. During this time, Wanda has a romance with Wonder Man, but it ultimately fizzles out in a later volume of the series (due to it being a weird and kind of boring relationship, sorry, Simon!)
On a team populated by mutants that had been directly affected by M-Day, perhaps it goes without saying that she struggled to find solidarity with her teammates. Most especially, the X-Man Rogue, who Wanda fights repeatedly throughout the series before Rogue (temporarily) kills her.
Here There Be (Scarlet) Witches
Mind control and mistaken identity factors largely in this era of Avengers, but nowhere is that more true than here, in which mentally-controlled Thors and Apocalypse-Twins-influenced Rogues run wild. When we first see Wanda, she is visiting the grave of Xavier and attempting to pay her final respects to a man that, for better or worse, loomed large in her life. Rogue appears, at least somewhat understandably enraged by Wanda’s presence. Rogue comes at Wanda in anger, but her flippant responses drive Rogue to furiously attack her. This fight is interrupted by Red Skull and his S-Men, but it sets the tone for their interactions for much of the series and beyond.
Meanwhile, Wanda is approached by the Apocalypse Twins, who murdered one of the cosmic Celestials and framed the planet earth for it. Now, with the Celestial executioner on the way, they decide that mutants are worth saving, and they beseech Wanda to bring them mutants in order to save them from the devastation soon to take the earth as a direct result of their actions. They appeal to Wanda’s guilt, insisting that she’s the only one who can save mutantkind.
Wanda believes herself to be one step ahead of the game and plans to do as the Twins ask in bringing mutants to their ark, but then to betray them by turning the mutants loose on them in order to stop the Twins. Rogue understandably misreads this highly complicated situation and believes Wanda to be reverting to type, so she absorbs Logan’s claw power and confronts Wanda, fights her, and ultimately stabs her through the chest. Rogue is under the influence of the Twins, but it’s hard to say where her general animosity towards Wanda ends and the influence begins.
To say that Uncanny Avengers is a little confusing is to say that water is a little bit wet, but there are some key moments in Wanda’s characterization. Her resistance to apologizing for her actions while being constantly internally plagued by them is one of her key defining traits over decades, and it’s used to great effect here. The outward haughtiness she portrays doesn’t match the reality of her mental health struggles, but that veneer is there because it protects her from falling apart under the scrutiny of her peers. The Apocalypse Twins approach Wanda specifically because of her desire to take back her worst mistakes. Her wish to save others and her fatal flaw of distrust leads her to take on more than anyone could bear, and that is a big part of what causes her (temporary) destruction.
The Scarlet Witch does, of course, not really die here, and this story leads directly into the events of AXIS, in which Wanda is influenced to attack Magneto and Pietro, and they discover that Magneto is (probably temporarily) not really their dad. Yet, even in such a bizarre series, there are some great moments with our girl. Though her relationship with Simon is strange throughout this story, he is there for her in a way that no one else is, and it makes sense that they hook up. When she returns from the dead and things go somewhat back to normal, the spell is broken and she casually breaks things off with him and begins a relationship with Doctor Voodoo.
In the end, despite her many flaws, Wanda of the last many several years is a relatable character who goes to the ends of the earth to correct her past misdeeds but again and again finds it impossible to do so, and that is the Wanda we get in Uncanny Avengers. Still, even in her worst moments, Wanda is so interesting because she never lets others define her. When Rogue (temporarily) kills Wanda, she mumbles an apology that the Scarlet Witch is simply too dangerous to live, and Wanda responds, “What does that make you?”
Where Wanda Was and Where She’s Going
After Uncanny wrapped, Wanda’s story has fluctuated wildly. In AXIS, she was evil, but under the influence. In her 2015 solo series, she sought out help for (as it is termed within the story) bipolar disorder and spent time solving more personal mysteries while quietly getting her life in order. Still, by Secret Empire, she’d been possessed again by the demonic Chthon. While she has assisted Doctor Strange and served on various Avengers teams in the interim, she has been thrown into deeper familial turmoil than ever before. In Empyre, hoping against hope to make amends with the mutants by attempting to resurrect the Genoshan dead, she once again made a grave error and led to catastrophe.
Uncanny Avengers is full of highs and lows when it comes to characterization to say the least, but its take on Wanda Maximoff does indeed ring true to her then-recent history (for the most part). Her condescending attitude, traumatic past, inability to trust, and her guilt-ridden desire to do the right thing can combine to create a monster at times, but that’s just part of Wanda’s complexity.
In order to understand where she’s been and where she’s going, Uncanny Avengers is often a forgotten step in Wanda’s story, but it can tell you a lot about the chasm between the uncrackable front Wanda puts up for others and who she really is in her private moments. All of which makes it a valuable key for understanding why Wanda continues to compel audiences despite her often questionable choices.
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